One of America’s greatest painters of the first half of the 20th century, John Marin is known for his watercolors, oil paintings and etchings. His artistic styles evolved from his etchings of scenes of European cities in the early part of the century to less-representational scenes of New York City, then on to nearly-abstract oils and watercolors of the Maine coast from late in his career. Born in Rutherford, N. J. in 1870, his mother died nine days after he was born. Since his father’s work involved extensive travel, Marin was reared in New Jersey by his maternal grandparents and two aunts. After studying in the local schools of Union Hill, N.J., the Hoboken Academy and the Stevens Academy (1882-1886), he studied mechanical engineering for a short time at the Stevens Institute of Technology. After working in the wholesale garment industry and as an architect, Marin convinced his father to support his study at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he worked under Thomas Pollock Anshutz (1851-1912) and Hugh Henry Breckenridge (1870-1937) from 1899 to 1901. Marin then went to New York City and worked under Frank Vincent DuMond (1865-1951) at the Art Students League for a few years. In 1905 Marin moved to Paris at the suggestion of his younger step-brother Charles Bittinger (1879-1970), a painter living in Paris. Marin lived and worked in Paris until 1910, again supported by his father, with trips around Europe and a return to America for several months in 1909-1910. He studied briefly at the Académie Julian and the Delecluse Academy. Marin learned etching on equipment provided by Bittinger; his work architectural views and street scenes appear informed by the etched work of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Marin created about one hundred of his nearly two hundred etchings while in Europe. A visit to Venice that year led to some of Marin’s most popular European etchings. He exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne in 1907, at both again the next year, and at the latter through 1910. Marin’s friend the photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973) sent his work to the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) in New York. Stieglitz showed Marin’s watercolors in his “291 Gallery” in New York in 1909 and put on a solo show of Marin’s watercolors, pastels and etchings the following year. Marin’s work would be shown at Stieglitz’s galleries for four decades, continuing at An American Place Gallery after Stieglitz’s death in 1946 until the gallery closed in 1950. In addition, Stieglitz replaced Marin’s father as a source of financial support by selling Marin’s works through his galleries, buying many for Stieglitz’s personal collection and advancing funds. After returning to New York in 1910, Marin began a series of etchings and watercolors depicting the urban scene around him, such as the Woolworth Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. He showed ten watercolors in the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York. San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition exhibited five of his etchings. He had begun his practice of spending summers in more rural locations in 1911 with time in the Berkshires. In 1914 he discovered the coast of Maine, and spent most summers there for the rest of his life, with such major exceptions as his two summer visits to Taos, N.M. in 1929 and 1930 as the guest of the art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962), done at the urging of his friend Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). Marin’s work was shown frequently in various galleries, notably a 1920 retrospective of fifty watercolors at the Daniel Gallery in New York. That year he bought a house in Cliffside Park, N.J., on the Palisades above the Hudson River, where he spent winters. From the late 1920s Marin made fewer etchings and pursued oil painting along with watercolor. Marin first visited Cape Split in Addison, Maine in 1933; attracted by the views of Pleasant Bay and the sea, he purchased a house there the next year, which became his summer home for the rest of his life. In 1936 the Museum of Modern Art mounted a notable solo exhibition of two hundred of his oils, watercolors and etchings. Marin continued to work and exhibit for the rest of his life. He created about 500 oil paintings and 2,500 watercolors during his long career. Among the notable exhibitions during his lifetime was a retrospective exhibition was organized by the de Young Museum in 1949, the first on the West Coast, which traveled to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. His honors included membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1942) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1943) and an honorary doctorate from Yale University (1950). He died in 1953 at Cape Split. Memorial exhibitions were held in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington (TNB 11/2015) Selected bibliography: Fine, Ruth E. John Marin. Exhibition catalog. New York: Abbeville Press for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990 Zigrosser, Carl. The Complete Etchings of John Marin: Catalogue raisonné, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1969.
© 2008 Estate of John Marin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York